Acquiring vocabulary is an essential task of early childhood, but some kinds of words are more difficult to acquire than others. It is well established that learners can use the linguistic context in which unfamiliar verbs appear to posit at least a broad representation of their meanings--an ability known as syntactic bootstrapping (e.g., Gleitman, 1990). I will present data on why some contexts are more supportive than others, and how semantic and processing considerations constrain the effectiveness of learning from linguistic context.

I will also present a new line of work and some pilot data on children's acquisition of event nominals. Like verbs, these denote events and should be difficult to acquire, but unlike verbs, they lack the argument structure cues used in syntactic bootstrapping. With a series of studies we are hoping to probe both their representations for these challenging nominals as well as what cues they use to form these representations.